Preview: What to expect from the 2022 edition of the women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Route, weather, contenders...everything you need to know.
Route, weather, contenders...everything you need to know.
Although Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Omloop van het Hageland are not part of the WorldTour their position on the calendar, the live coverage, and the start list mean they garner a certain level of attention. The two cobbled one-day events run alongside the men’s “Opening Weekend”, where we see all the Classics stars line up to start a months-long campaign against the weather, the roads, and each other.
While the women’s side of the sport has less specialization, we’ve seen quite a few women develop over recent years into Classics type riders. Most of these women were not present at the recent races in Spain, so Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Omloop van het Hageland are as close to an opening weekend as we are going to get. Especially because the WorldTour kicks off the following weekend at Strade Bianche.
The one-day Classics on Saturday, February 26 and Sunday, February 27 will be the first real showdown of 2022. The more recognizable race of the two is the first, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Won by the likes of Kirsten Wild, Emma Johansson, Lizzie Deignan, Lucinda Brand, and Annemiek van Vleuten it is a test of skill, fitness, tactical awareness, and luck.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will also be the first “normal” Classics race since the 2020 edition, where fans can once again line the streets at the start and finish.
Since Omloop Het Nieuwsblad takes place in Belgium in the late winter, the weather can be hit or miss. It can change while the race is going on. Crosswinds can play a role in the final composition of the peloton. Rain can demoralize the riders before the day has even begun.
The start in Gent looks like it will take place under partly cloudy skies. The temperature around the time the race kicks off will be around 10°C, with a little bit of wind chill. Good news for those who fear the wet, the possibility of precipitation is low.
By the time the race reaches the finish in Ninove, the temperature will have dropped a few degrees, but the riders won’t feel it given the frequency of punchy climbs in the second half of the race. There is a possibility of wind gusts as the days drag on, but nothing Team DSM grinning at.
The 129 km long route from Gent to Ninove has a slightly altered first 60 km from previous years. The Molenberg climb that was 69 km into the 2021 edition will not feature in the 2022 edition. The race has the same final chunk of climbs as the men’s event on the same day.
The women will tackle nine climbs throughout the race with Edelareberg climb kicking off the action 69 km into the day and the second climb, Wolvenberg, popping up 5 km later. Between the two is the Holleweg section of cobbles at 77 km, then there are two cobbled sectors between the second and third climbs. Kerkgate at 77 km and Jagerij at 80 km. These three sectors are the main bulk of the day’s cobbles, with the first cobbled section already behind the race after 56s km.
With Wolvenberg, three sets of cobbles, and the Marlboroughstraat climb at 89 km one after another the racing will no doubt heat up here. Especially because the fourth climb hits soon after the third at 90 km in.
The fifth and final set of (flat) cobbles is just before the fifth climb of the day. The Haaghoek cobbles are 91 km into the race with the Leberg climb 3 km later.
After the cobbles are over and done all that’s left from the peloton is five climbs. After the Leberg is the Berendries climb at 98 km and the Elvenrenberg-Vossenhol at 100 km, followed by a long section of relative calm before the final two climbs of the day. Unfortunately for the peloton, the final two climbs are the toughest in the race, and for added fun, both are cobbled.
The famed Muur-Kapelmuur kicks up with 17 km left to race and the Bosberg four kilometres later will be the final testing ground before the 15 km run-in to the finish.
The last three editions of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad ended with dominant solo performances. Anna van der Breggen left the race behind after the Bosberg and finished 23 seconds ahead of a large chase group. In 2020 Annemiek van Vleuten won by 42 seconds with small groups scattered all over the road behind her. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak had the largest winning margin in 2019 of one minute 9 seconds.
In 2017 and 2016 Lucinda Brand and Lizzie Deignan won the race solo, but in 2018 it was a bunch sprint to the line.
To sum it up, the most likely scenario is a single rider breaking away on one of the final climbs and holding off the chase to finish alone. Another option is a small breakaway group of, let’s say, three.
With the climbs a little more spaced out than they have been in the last two editions a reduced bunch sprint is definitely in the cards, but it will be the more Classic style sprinters and not pure flatland sprinters who make it to the line.
Marlen Reusser and Lotte Kopecky, SD Worx
For her first race with SD Worx Marlen Reusser is unlikely to get free reign to attack like we saw her do many times, successfully, in 2021. However, the time trial powerhouse, if present in the finale of the race, could slip off the front of a peloton containing her teammate Lotte Kopecky. If this were to happen, not many teams would be keen to take Kopecky to the line so Reusser might get lucky and pull off the victory. SD Worx is known for lining up to races with multiple avenues to the W, and Reusser has filled a gap left behind by the now-retired Van der Breggen.
Were a move not possible, Kopecky is a fantastic backup for SD Worx. The Belgian national champion finished fourth in 2021, third in the bunch sprint led by Movistar’s Emma Norsgaard. She is another new signing for SD Worx, and potentially their biggest get for the 2022 season.
As per usual SD Worx will have other options beyond their new faces. The breakthrough star of 2021 Demi Vollering will be there as will former winner Van den Broek-Blaak. Both could definitely take the title on Saturday.
The race will not be the same without Kopecky and Reusser’s teammate Amy Pieters, who finished third in 2021 and won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2014. Pieters remains in a hospital in the Netherlands following a training accident in December of 2021.
Ellen van Dijk, Trek-Segafredo
Ellen van Dijk started the season as well as you can, by helping her teammate Elisa Balsamo win the first stage of Setmana Valenciana and then taking the second stage for herself. Van Dijk is also climbing quite well, she finished sixth on the Queen stage of the Spanish four-day race and fourth overall.
Van Dijk has never won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad but she did win the following one-day, Omloop van het Hageland in 2018. The time trial world champion is more than capable of staying away once she’s escaped a peloton, and as we saw in Setmana Valenciana, apparently the peloton isn’t afraid to let her go.
Next to Van Dijk, Trek-Segafredo will start with the world champion Balsamo, who has one win under her belt already this year and is another potential winner.
Grace Brown, FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope
Grace Brown, who returned to Europe after taking her second ITT national championship title in Australia, will be FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope’s number one weapon on Saturday. Brown is no stranger to long-range solo attacks that pay off in the end. Her team is lining up with only five riders, the other three “co-leaders” Evita Muzic, Marta Cavalli, and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig absent from the start list.
That means Brown will have less support but will also be the sole leader for her new French team.
Annemiek van Vleuten and Emma Norsgaard, Movistar
With one jersey already on her wall this season and one stage victory done, Annemiek van Vleuten has already shown tremendous form in the early races of 2022. The Dutchwoman charged back into racing from a significant injury at the end of 2021 and already looks like a fighting force for the season ahead.
Since she has won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad before and thus knows exactly what she needs to do, she’s definitely one to watch.
Van Vleuten’s teammate Emma Norsgaard is another potential winner if the race comes down to a small bunch and she gets to sprint. Norsgaard won the bunch sprint for second in 2021, the first of a string of impressive results for the young rider. Now, in 2022, she is a year older and a year wiser so the possibility of turning all those second places into firsts is real.
Marta Bastianelli, UAE Team ADQ
Finally, Marta Bastianelli, who finished second in both the 2020 and 2019 editions of the race, is looking pretty good to take the elusive win in 2022. Bastianelli has two victories already in 2022 for her new(ish) UAE Team ADQ team. She sprinted to victory in the Vuelta CV Feminas and won the final stage of the Setmana Valenciana. She’s also historically been very successful in the Spring Classics and has won races like the Tour of Flanders and Ronde van Drenthe in 2019 and Gent-Wevelgem in 2018.
Live coverage of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad starts at 16:00 local time, that’s CET, on GCN+ for viewers in Europe and the U.K.. Australian, American, and Canadian viewers can find a live feed of the race on FloSports.